Akwa Ibom State government said it has disbursed over N1.2billion as interest free loans to 2,000 cassava farmers in the last two years thereby checkmating the monopoly of market unions in the pricing of foodstuffs in the state.
The State Commissioner for Agriculture, Dr. Glory Edet who was speaking to correspondents on the sustainability of the state government’s subsidized sales of Garri in Uyo, Sunday, said the loan scheme was a deliberate move to reduce the high price of garri, a staple food in the state by boosting the capacity of greater number of farmers to produce more.
“In the area of cultivation, we have been encouraging farmers with interest free loans. Last year we gave over 2,000 farmers N250,000 for each of the over 5,000 hectares they cultivated. We also gave them free improved varieties of cassava stem and this has boosted production in the state.
“To break the monopoly of market unions we have harvested the cassava we planted in our demonstration farms. We have also processed them and sell at three cups for N100 when it was a cup for N100 in the open market and we ensured we take them to major markets around the state in addition to selling at the State Secretariat three times a week.” She explained.
Edet pointed out that the initiative was not limited to cassava production and disclosed that 1,000 each of maize and vegetable farmers also benefitted from interest free loans even as her ministry has distributed 700,000 cocoa seedlings to cocoa farmers and boosted livestock farmers with improved breeds of goats and other animals.
She explained that the present utilization of the cassava mills is dependent on the quantity of cassava from its demonstration farms across the state but said that government has in addition acted as off checkers by buying from small holder cassava farmers to increase processing capacity and empower the farmers to sustain production.
The commissioner said the ministry has through this intervention, sustained the sell of more than 150 bags of 120kg of garri per day at a reduced price in different parts of the state to cushion the hardship on residents and stabilize the reduced price of the commodity in the open market
But the broader initiative according to the commissioner has been on increasing the scope of the state government’s Green House with increased emphasis on the training and empowerment of individual holder farmers, especially youths and women with funds, equipment, agro- chemicals, fertilizer and improved varieties of seeds and stems.
The ministry, she said has also expanded its swampy rice production capacity to include individual holder farms in Okobo, Uruan, Ibiono Ibom and Nsit Ubium LGAs in addition to existing plantations at Ini Council Area.
She emphasized that government effort was a holistic strategy to ensure that her target of local production of at least 80% of food consumed in the state by 2023 was achieved.
A survey however by correspondents in the state revealed that government’s drive towards food sufficiency was hampered by the low capacity utilization of its multi faceted cassava processing mills as well as lack of commitment on the part of beneficiaries of government agricultural loans.
Correspondents who visited some of the cassava mills discovered that the mills were underutilized even as only a small percentage of the populace have benefitted from the government’s subsidized sales and have continued to buy at exorbitant prices in open markets.
The mills though if fully utilized have the capacity to produce enough for the populace at a reduced price, it was discovered that apart from few individual farmers and cooperatives who patronize the mills, government’s efforts to mass produce the commodity have largely remained inadequate.
For instance, it was gathered that the mills have the capacity to produce more than 350 bags a week but their current weekly production have not been more than 50 bags even as the commodity sometimes are not readily available for consumers to purchase at the state Secretariat and other POS.
Many residents are of the opinion that government procure much of the commodity for sale from neighbouring states, wondering how its food sufficiency drive would succeed.